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1968 Age USSR WAG

1968: Why Is the Soviet Union’s National Team So Young?

Why is our national team suddenly so young? It seems to be a recurring question in the Soviet press in the late 1960s, and there were several explanations.

In an article from 1967, one writer suggested that it’s because the Soviet Union was trying to keep pace with the likes of Věra Čáslavská, who made her international debut at the age of 16 at the 1958 World Championships in Moscow.

The articles from 1968 told a different story.

In the first article below, the explanation will sound more familiar to today’s gym nerds. It has to do with the presumed innocence and naïveté of female gymnasts before they reach adulthood.

In the second article, Larisa Latynina offers a slightly different rendition of the rise of the teenage gymnast.

And finally, we’ll take a look at an Estonian article about Larisa Petrik and what she reportedly did with her pigtails.

Categories
1958 1966 Age USSR

1958: On the Origin of Teenage Gymnasts in the USSR

While Olga Korbut and Nadia Comăneci are often credited with ushering in the era of teenage gymnasts, that’s not the origin story that circulated in the Soviet Union in the 1960s.

Back story: The Soviet Union had relied on adult women in their 20s and 30s for their gymnastics teams. At the 1958 World Championships, their youngest gymnasts were 21 (Astakhova and Kalinina). Czechoslovakia, on the other hand, brought a teenager who had star power.

Čáslavská’s debut: In 1958, 16-year-old Věra Čáslavská made her international debut, winning a team silver at the World Championships in Moscow. And, as the tale goes, it was in that moment that the Čáslavská piqued the interest of the spectators and Soviet coaches alike.

What follows is a translation of a May 20, 1967 article from Неделя (Nedelia), which was the Sunday supplement to Известия (Izvestii︠a︡). (Thanks to Nico for his assistance with the translation.)